Yard banner for U.S. Marine sparks legal tussle

NEW ORLEANS Tue Jul 26, 2011 11:05am EDT

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NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - When Corey Burr left to serve with U.S. forces in Afghanistan in January, his parents erected a banner in their front yard with his photo and a message: "Our son defends our freedom".

Now Timothy and Jodi Burr are entangled in a legal dispute with their Louisiana homeowners' association that has demanded the sign come down.

Residents of a subdivision just two miles from Barksdale Air Force Base in Bossier City, Louisiana, the Burrs assumed neighbors would understand when they placed the 3-foot by 6-foot banner in their yard to pay tribute to their 20-year-old son, a lance corporal in the U.S. Marines.

But a month later, the Burrs received notice from their homeowners association that the sign must come down. The association declared it out of compliance with covenants put in place by the neighborhood's developer, Jodi Burr said.

The Burrs responded with a letter saying they believed their banner should not be singled out from other yard signs throughout the subdivision.

The Gardens of Southgate Association answered with a demand for removal of the sign. Ten days ago, a sheriff's deputy knocked on the door to serve the Burrs with a lawsuit.

Geoffrey Westmoreland, a Shreveport lawyer who represents the homeowner association, could not be reached for comment. He had said in a statement in April that the association's board would not comment on a pending legal matter.

The statement added that Westmoreland "personally supports and agrees with the message contained in the Burrs' sign" and that board members were thankful for Corey Burr's service.

Two lawyers who agreed to represent the Burrs on a pro bono basis have filed an answer to the suit arguing that the homeowner covenants were not being enforced consistently in the neighborhood and that forcing the Burrs to remove the sign would violate their right to freedom of expression.

Meanwhile, Jodi Burr says the family has received expressions of support from neighbors as well as people far outside of Louisiana.

"We have not heard a single voice of complaint from anyone other than the homeowners' association," she said.

The family hasn't heard much from their son either, she added, saying he was expected home for two weeks in October, and was scheduled to return from his deployment in March.

"He's not in a safe location, and he's mobile, so calls are infrequent," she said. "We just want him to know how much we miss him."

(Editing by Cynthia Johnston)

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